Lying on the beach * Eating fab food * Exploring Old San Juan * Water sports
Hurricane Maria may have devastated Puerto Rico, and pockets of the island still suffer greatly, but the island is coming back strong. You don’t see any damage in San Juan or Contrado, and little by little places elsewhere on the island are opening up to visitors. And that’s why we all should think about a long weekend in this palm-shaded paradise just a short four-hour flight from DC—they need our tourist dollars to bolster the economy. And you won’t be disappointed. Powder white sands, warm, azure waters, a stellar cocktail scene, and one of the world’s buzziest food revolutions await. There’s a dry rain forest, bioluminescent lagoons that glow in the dark, any kind of water sport you can think of, and the cobbled streets of seductive Old San Juan, with its two fortresses still watching over the sea. And everywhere you go, you hear stories about how the hurricane brought incredible misery, but from that misery arose an entrepreneurial spirit—the locals call it “effervescence”—that is bolstering an exciting new phase in the island’s history.
[stay] San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
Located 20 minutes tops from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in the neighborhood of Contrado, this resort hotel is the perfect perch. First off, the beach—with its white sands, pellucid azure waters, and seaside hammocks—is all you need to know about. But there’s also the open-air cocktail bar, Gingambó bar, theplace to watch the sunset over the beach, as well as an impressive fitness room, spa, the signature Gingambó restaurant, amazing swimming pools, and … yes … a casino (not really my thing, but it didn’t bother me). What I love most about this property is my spacious, airy room with its balcony overlooking the pool and the sparkling sea beyond. The hotel is about 3 miles from Old San Juan—an easy Uber ride of $6 (or nice long walk/run!).
[eat] Calle Loíza
The island is experiencing a foodie revolution—and ground zero is Calle Loíza, a street that experienced storm devastation but is coming back with a vengeance. Among the highlights of an ever growing roster of amazing little restaurants:
A place where memories were made in years past when it was a basic cafeteria has grown into the “it” Puerto-Rican-style diner. Display cases full of tempting fare draw crowds breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Obama stopped by Kasalta when he visited, ordering the medianoche sandwich, overflowing with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles.
Tied into the vegan movement (it’s not coincidental that it’s located across the street from McDonald’s!), Cocobana‘s black bean burger slider on pumpkin turmeric bread is one of the most divine creations around. The smoothies are fabulous too.
Try the modern twist on mofongo, of African origin at this unassuming local restaurant serving up everything from steak to seafood. Ana had plans to open the second floor as a B&B, but when the hurricane hit opened it to single mothers. There are still two mothers there, and she won’t open until they’re ready to leave. That’s the sort of community spirit that drives this neighborhood.
Where the Loíza renaissance all started. Tresbé began as a food struck offering simple, cheap, accessible food. After the hurricane, the sushi chef came back from his flourishing career in Miami to help out his family. The resto owner gave him some space at this growing open-air patio-like space to “do as you do,” and the result is amazing sushi and poke bowls, among many other dishes—pork and fish tacos, ceviche, rice bowls, salmon and veggie sliders. Don’t miss the super local fruit drinks too (with a spiked option).
[fun] Hit the water
This you’ll be able to figure out on your own, guaranteed—whether you want to parasail, kayak, swim in the waves, or simply catch some rays. That said, Puerto Rico is the first place I tried SNUBA-ing: a cross between snorkeling and Scuba diving. Without having to know how to Scuba or undergo any kind of certification, you swim through coral reefs, meeting swarms of colorful fish, eels, and, if you’re really lucky, genteel turtles, as you breathe through a mouthpiece that’s attached to an air tank floating on the water surface. I felt like I was a mermaid swimming through a magical sea kingdom. You can try it with Aqua Adventure, offering several trips daily from the Caribe Hilton.
[fun] Wander Old San Juan
Old San Juan is a glorious place to wander and allow serendipity to take over. Here, rainbows of color permeate each cobbled street and colonial houses harbor shops, restaurants, cafés, and historic sites. The streets are alive all times of the day, with shoppers and coffee drinkers convening during the day, and all-night revelers converging at night.